I always love reading discussions about Porter. What was it? What were its origins? What is its relationship with Stout (love-child or stepfather)? All of these questions I'll be ignoring completely today. Instead I'm concentrating on its slow lingering death.
Oh, go on then. I can't resist the last of those questions. Stout, that is the dark beer we know as Stout today, wasn't originally called Stout Porter. It was called Brown Stout. The name Stout Porter only came into use much later. And Stout didn't necessarily mean a dark beer in the 18th century. Barclay Perkins were still brewing a Pale Stout, made from 100% pale malt, in 1805.
This doesn't mean that there was no relationship between Porter and Stout in 18th-century London. Both were Brown Butt Beers. Porter being the colloquial name for the standard-strength version. Brown Stout was an understandable abbreviation of Brown Stout Butt Beer.
Is that clear? No? Then you'll have to wait for my book.
Contrary to some reports, Porter did not die out during WW I. Peaking around 1850, it had been in slow decline ever since. This continued in the interwar years, with it becoming very much a marginal product.
Like Mild, as one of the cheaper beers the war had a dramatic effect on its gravity. In 1914, a typical Porter had an OG of 1052-1056º. By the twenties, it had dropped to 1036-1040º. The increase in beer duty in the early thirties reduced it even more, down to the barely-alcoholic level of 1027-1030º.
London brewers seem to have kept brewing the style longer than provincial brewers. Porter was starting to disappear from their price lists in the 1890's. No doubt sentiment played at a part at breweries such as Whitbread and Barclay Perkins, which had made their reputations brewing Porter. Being party-gyled with better-selling Stouts must have helped, too. The tiny amounts of Porter being brewed wouldn't have been practical in breweries with such a long brew length, had they been single-gyled.
Here are some London Porters from the 1920's:
In the 1930's, Barclay Perkins Porter, which was party-gyled with Brown Stout and Oatmeal Stout, has a surprisingly high proportion of dark malts in its grist and just 53% pale malt, in the form of mild ale malt.
The quantity produced in this brew, for a concern as large as Barclay Perkins, was miniscule, just 28 barrels. Here was a beer clearly very close to extinction. As this was a draught beer, only a handful of pubs could have still been stocking it.
In the 1930's Whitbread's Porter was even weedier: under 1030º. Here are the details:
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